Iron Man 3 is the first Marvel movie in their self-titled “Phase 2” and if it is any indication of what to expect from the rest of the movies including Thor: The Dark World and Joss Whedon’s follow-up to The Avengers then we are in for a fun couple of years.
Iron Man 3 plays more as a sequel to last year’s The Avengers than 2010’s disappointing Iron Man 2. Iron Man 2 suffered from the writer’s strike and lack of cohesiveness and all of that has been corrected here. Director Shane Black, who also directed Robert Downey, Jr. in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, delivers a de-construction of the Tony Stark character and shows that more so that any other comic movie, the man behind the mask is much more fascinating and fun to watch than the hero.
Iron Man’s main big bad from the comics, The Mandarin has declared a personal war against America and is somehow responsible for mysterious bombings. When one of these bombings seriously injures someone close to Tony he makes finding The Mandarin his priority. At the same time Aldrich Killian, a man scorned by Tony in the past, has returned and is interested in showing off his new ground breaking Extremis regeneration program to Pepper while wanting more than meets the eye with her.
The script is loosely based off of Warren Ellis’ Extremis story then interweaves The Mandarin into it. As a whole it works and the parts that make you second guess them are mostly forgotten by the movie third act which is where having Shane Black at the helm really pays off. The final action sequence is huge. Sorry, I meant HUGE. You can see why Joss Whedon asked how he was supposed to top it with his Avengers sequel.
The dialogue is quick and snappy and some lines are quite cheesy in the hands of any other actor, but in the hands of RDJ you avoid the eye rolling moments that would normally cause a snicker or two in the theater.
The biggest plus Iron Man 3 has going for it is the character development. In the second film it seemed like everyone was going through the paces and the movie always seemed a bit off to me. Here we have true forward movement. Tony is having trouble dealing with the events in The Avengers and as he so eloquently puts it, “there are gods and aliens and I’m just a man in a can”. He buries himself in work as he and Pepper grow distant. You witness his first anxiety attack and see the confusion on his face as the man who has never been lacking in confidence for anything suddenly has it all stripped away.
Pepper Potts and Rhodes are much more than just secondary joke material here. Pepper’s relationship with Tony is in question and more so when Aldrich Killian reappears on the scene. Any movie where we get plenty of Don Cheadle is a good thing and IM3 makes sure we know that Rhodes is there for much more than Tony’s drunken ass-kicker like in 2.
Now I will keep this review spoiler free, but I would be remiss if I did not at least mention what I like to refer to as “the swerve”. First off, I would like to congratulate Marvel on keeping it on the down low for this long. In a world where every bit of news and information is broken weeks or months in advance, I think a lot of people are going to be taken aback by it, but mostly comic fans. When it plays out I instantly thought, this is either going to be loved or hated by most people. No grey area. I am on the love side because it did get me. I am sure I could have gone searching the web and found out before, but it is nice to be gotten every now and then. If you are on the hate side of “the swerve”, don’t worry, I can completely see why. I just hope you didn’t let it ruin the rest of the movie for you.
In the end, did Iron Man 3 deliver? Yes. Yes it did. Is it better than Iron Man 2? God yes. Is it better than Iron Man? I would not go that far. I am still putting it in the upper echelon of Marvel movies. If you want it broken down easily I guess we will do this:
1. The Avengers
2. Captain America
3. Iron Man
4 Iron Man 3
and so on….
If you want to know the rest of the list ask away!
Marvel did themselves a favor by going outside the box and getting Shane Black to direct this. The man who wrote Lethal Weapon and directed Kiss Kiss Bang Bang knows how to handle his action sequences, of which there are numerous, satisfying ones even when it is just Tony sans armor. The real surprise is the emotional weight that are put on the characters. Tony’s near death in The Avengers is a focal point of Iron Man 3 as it needed to be because if it was simply ignored, it would have lessened exactly what The Avengers meant in the Marvel cinematic universe.
I hope Iron Man 3 is a good sign as to what we can expect from the Phase 2 movies with new directors (Thor, Captain America). It feels new and different and that is exactly what is needed now that we are six years into these Marvel movies. Staying stagnant can kill a franchise and I am hard pressed to say that Iron Man 3 is stagnant. From it’s bizarre opening sequence involving Eiffel 65 (really) to it’s 70’s inspired closing credits (which is completely Shane Black), Iron Man 3 shows that even though we may be entering the second phase of this cinematic juggernaut, its inaugural character is still its strongest.
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